Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prv 9: 1-6; Ps 34: 2-7; Eph 5: 15-20; Jn 6: 51-58

CHRIST-HEAVEN-CELESTIAL-REALM-GREAT-FEASTReferences to food and drink are abundant in the readings for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. They are nonetheless largely symbolic of something greater — that is, wisdom and understanding. There is knowledge, knowing something. Then there is comprehension, grasping in some ways what the learning we have achieved means. However, the ultimate is wisdom, not just knowing and understanding, but seeing how it applies to our lives.

That is what Jesus sought in His teachings and His ministry. He wanted people to see beyond the obvious and into the depths of what life and the way we live it is all about. Nevertheless, that was not easy for the people of His time, nor is it for us today.

Our First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a collection of sayings and instructions that represent “wisdom.” The Book deals with values, moral behavior, the meaning of life, and correct conduct. The underlying premise is simply that recognizing the authority and the control and the “wisdom” of God takes precedent over everything else. This is, of course, at the heart of stewardship — knowing God and making God the center of our lives. In fact, the underlying message of Proverbs is that seeking wisdom may be the essence and goal of life.

Jesus made reference to Heaven being like a great feast, a sumptuous meal. That is the point of the First Reading as well. We are given choices, and we also have free will. What we choose and what we select to do, to eat if you will, is a matter left to us. We are advised to choose carefully and wisely. From the perspective of Proverbs, the wise choice is the God-centered approach.

As is St. Paul’s wont, he speaks to the “wisdom” of pursuing a spiritual way of life also. In our Second Reading Paul makes reference to drinking and eating as well, but he advises us, just as is the case in Proverbs, to choose carefully what and what path of life we follow. Paul tells us to be “filled with the spirit,” and then he completes the concept of stewardship when he states, “…giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” It is this sense of gratitude that all comes from the Lord that fulfills our lives as good stewards. All that we do is to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Being filled with the Spirit is more imperative than being filled with food and drink.

Jesus completes the idea of spiritual food when He states in today’s Gospel from St. John: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Today’s Gospel is a continuation from what is called Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse from which our Gospel readings for the past few weeks have been drawn. Early in the discourse narratives the people ask Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” We tend to think of Rabbis as those ordained to leadership in the Jewish church. However, the term “rabbi” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “teacher.”

Jesus is the Teacher. Jesus provides the Word and the meaning of the Word. His entire treatise on the “Bread of Life” is meant to teach us, to reveal to us, the importance of taking Jesus as our Savior, of uniting with Him through the Eucharist, and using that gift to further the Kingdom in His behalf. The Spiritual Bread offered us by Jesus is the fundamental food of life that we require.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prv 9: 1-6; Ps 34: 2-7; Eph 5: 15-20; Jn 6: 51-58

CHRIST-I-AM-THE-LIVING-BREADHave you ever been hungry? Really hungry? People who have experienced intense hunger may appreciate Jesus’ words that He is the “Bread of Life” to a greater extent than others. We are aware that the world is filled with people who hunger and thirst, but most of us have never experienced the true pain of that experience.

While most of us are fortunate enough to avoid the pains of physical hunger, in our modern world and society, spiritual hunger runs rampant.

When the Lord says in today’s Gospel “This is the bread that came down from Heaven… whoever eats this bread will live forever,” He is addressing a need we have that is much deeper than physical hunger. He is also telling us that the reward for eating this bread — for taking it into our inner being, for changing our mind and heart because of it — is eternal life. Blessed Mother Teresa said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” This is the hunger we need to deal with in our faith lives, for when we love, we are beginning to satisfy that spiritual hunger to which the Lord refers.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19: 4-8; Ps 34: 2-9; Eph 4:30- 5:2; Jn 6: 41-51

bread-of-life-discourseOf the Four Gospels the Gospel of John stands alone in many ways. It has been called by many the “spiritual” Gospel because of its unique approach to relating the Life of Christ. It was Clement of Alexandria who first called it that as he felt that the other three Gospels recorded the physical life of Christ, while John spoke to the spiritual life of Christ. Generally accepted as the last of the Four Gospels to be written, John the Apostle allegedly wrote it late in his life, and it is believed that he lived into his nineties.

It is interesting to note that St. John is thought to have died in Ephesus. It was Ephesus where Mary was believed to have lived her last days as well, and John is the one charged by Christ from the Cross to care for His Mother. Also, in our readings for this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time it is the Ephesians (those who live in Ephesus) to whom St. Paul is writing in the Second Reading.

The idea of physical and spiritual lives surges through all three readings today. In the First Reading from the First Book of Kings Elijah is exhausted by his ministry, by what God has asked him to do. He turns to God and asserts to the Lord, “This is enough.” He is completely spent and seeks relief from his daily duties and challenges, his burdens. We often may do the same. However, God may minister to us in the same way that He does to Elijah. Initially God attends the physical needs of Elisha by granting him rest “under the broom tree” and then providing him with food, “Get up and eat.” The story of Elijah informs us that for the rest of Elijah’s life the Lord addressed the prophet’s spiritual needs.

In our reading from Ephesians last week St. Paul instructed us to get rid of our old self and put on the new self. He develops that idea further this week as he instructs us to get rid of “bitterness, fury, and anger.” These are characteristics of the old self, while the new self is embodied by kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. This is really the formula for us to be more Christian in our approach to life. Our call to discipleship and stewardship from Jesus intends for us to treat one another in this way. Our forgiveness, our love of one another, is patterned after the way we are treated by the Lord. God addresses our spiritual needs, and in response we need to reach out to the needs of those around us in service, forgiveness, and love. Jesus provided and provides self-giving love to each of us. That is the same kind of love which is expected of us.

One of our human frailties is that we think we are in charge, and that we make the choice to give ourselves to God and others. Stewardship is the humble acceptance of the fact that we are not in charge; we are never in charge. God is, has been, will be, and always will be in control. That is what Jesus means when He says in our Gospel reading, “They shall all be taught by God.” Jesus offers us spiritual bread (the Bread of Life) which is more than the manna provided in the desert. However, to fully receive and understand it, we must “eat it.” We cannot just savor or appreciate it. We must partake of it. Jesus must be part of our lives, and part of us. If we achieve that, then truly we can “live forever.”

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19: 4-8; Ps 34: 2-9; Eph 4:30- 5:2; Jn 6: 41-51

St-Paul-Icon-1The city of Ephesus was one of St. Paul’s major centers of operation. Although his letter to the Ephesians is not lengthy (it is about one-third the size of his letters to the Corinthians), many scholars consider it to be the most theologically sound of all his letters. One of Paul’s major purposes in writing it was to make clear to the Gentiles that they have been brought together with the Jews in the Body of Christ.

Unity is important, as much now as in the early Church. Furthermore, Ephesians is one of Paul’s most encouraging letters. In the interest of Christian unity Paul includes an important piece of advice in today’s Second Reading: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

The idea of forgiveness is so important to us if we truly wish to be Christians and good stewards. Most of us understand that we need to be forgiven, but that does not make it any easier for us to forgive. Yet, that is at the basis of our ability to be unified and loving in the way Paul advises. When we learn to forgive, we take a large step toward holiness, as indicated by the famous quote from Alexander Pope, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15; Ps 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; Jn 6: 24-35

bread-of-life-discourseJesus proclaims to us in today’s Gospel reading from St. John: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” As Catholics, we have heard those words, or words to that effect, throughout our faith lives. However, we do not always grasp the complete meaning of what the Lord is saying to us.

Throughout our readings for this Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time this “bread of life” concept is explained and reinforced. In fact, John, Chapter 6, from which today’s Gospel reading is drawn, is known among many scholars and theologians as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

Our First Reading from Exodus recounts what occurred in the desert after the Israelites had fled Egypt. They are quoted as saying that they had plenty to eat when they were in Egypt, and Moses seems to have led them into the desert to starve. Moses assures them that they will receive “bread from Heaven.” This miracle in the desert is the forerunner to what we are to learn about the Bread of Life from the Lord.

The Israelites are simply complaining. People who complain (even today) often look at the past or some previous event as being more positive than it may have been. Here are the Israelites looking with fondness back on their time as slaves and captives. Just as God met the needs of the Israelites in this account, He most often meets our needs as well. God has resources beyond our comprehension; the Israelites did not know the how of the bread which miraculously appeared. Our trust in God involves our trust in His ability to always meet our needs, to be with us in times of trial and stress.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul is trying to explain to them the unique and special qualities of being a Christian. As we as Catholics have become more mainstream in our society, we may tend to try to lessen our differences from others. Paul’s point is that we are different, that we look at life and society in a different way. This is, of course, a challenge for us and for all Catholics. Observe those who on the surface are Catholic throughout our country and our society. How many of them compromise Catholic beliefs to appear like others? Do we? As Paul indicates, if we are truly pursuing our faith as a way of life, we must be willing to change and to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

In the Gospel from John, part of that discourse on the Bread of Life, Jesus prompts us to see the gift He gives us, that Bread of Life. Our Gospel readings for the past few weeks have emphasized this special gift from the Lord. From His feeding of the 5,000 about which we received the Word last week to this week’s declaration Christ broadens our understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings life to all who receive Him. This is fundamental to our beliefs and practices. In the First Reading from Exodus God delivered Israel from Egypt and He provided them with food so they could live while crossing the desert. That food was real food. However, it only sustained them in this life. Jesus as the Bread of Life not only sustains us here and now, but in a life that will endure forever. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate the paschal mystery by which Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice, and through that offering He is raised from the dead. Our participation in His dying and rising is through the Eucharist.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15; Ps 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; Jn 6: 24-35

ST-PAUL-ICON-1St. Paul advises us in his letter to the Ephesians (our Second Reading) to “put away the old self of your former way of life… and put on the new self.” Paul is calling for a conversion, a change in how we live. We need to remember the first documented word that Jesus said when He began His ministry was “Repent.” It is also crucial that we keep in mind that the original word Jesus said was “metanoeo,” the Greek word as reported in Gospels. There are two parts to this word: the first meta means “change,” and the second noeo refers to the mind and its thoughts and perceptions.

Thus, what Jesus was really saying to us was “change your hearts and minds.” This is what St. Paul is speaking about when he says we need to “put away the old self… and put on the new self.” We are called to conversion; we are called to a change, a transformation that puts God at the center of our lives rather than self and all that goes with that self-centeredness.

This is the stewardship conversion to which we often make reference. This is not a one-time conversion but an ongoing one, a daily one, perhaps even more than once a day. That may sound impossible, but it is not if all we do and all that motivates us is the desire to live as Jesus wants us to. It is not easy, but it is joyful and fulfilling.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015 — Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kgs: 4: 42-44; Ps 145: 10-11, 15-18; Eph 4: 1-6; Jn 6: 1-5

Christ_feeding_the_multitude“For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some leftover’.” We might conclude from that passage from Holy Scripture that a reference is being made to Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude. However, that is taken directly from our First Reading today from the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, a precursor to Jesus’ miracle, which is reported in today’s Gospel reading from St. John.

Originally one book, the Book of Kings, now divided into two parts, is the history of Israel and Judah from King David right up to the defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Our First Reading recounts a similar happening to what we have heard in today’s Gospel: a large group of people are fed by what is apparently a small amount of food, in this case 20 loaves of bread made from barley. We need to note a couple points from the reading, however. Specifically, these loaves were “made from the first fruits.” This is noteworthy to our complete understanding of this passage. Stewardship calls us to give of and from our “first fruits.” That was a central concept to the people of the Old Testament — everything comes from God, and it is appropriate that the first results of all our labors should go back to God. This is also a fundamental part of our understanding of stewardship. Although not stated, there is an implication that by giving of the first fruits, a gift, these loaves for example, may have more power and force. God can take any gift and multiply it many times over.

If our First Reading from 2 Kings indicates to us the possible strength of good stewardship, our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us vital traits of a good steward. Paul calls on us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.” We may know someone who lives that way, but we also understand how difficult that is to do. Yet those are exactly the attributes which we understand we are to strive for, all motivated and based upon love.

Imagine what was going on at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Just His healing presence might have been enough for a multitude to gather. Nevertheless, there was something about this Man that definitely attracted people. We may also have walked some distance, as they did, to see Him, hear Him, and experience His presence. This is the same multitude for whom the Lord had compassion in last week’s reading. He feeds them first spiritually. Then He feeds them literally.

Interestingly, Jesus knows what will happen, and He also does not need anyone’s help to accomplish this miracle, but He turns to His Apostles for help and advice. As is the case many times with us, they do not think in the Lord’s terms. They are concerned about the cost of feeding the crowd, and about the feasibility of feeding them. We may at times run into the same uncertainty when trying to accomplish the Lord’s work by being good stewards. We often think “Where will the funds come from?”, or “This will not work.” The point is that if we turn to the Lord and if we rely on the Lord “all things are possible.” God is the all-powerful Giver; we are His helpers. If we perceive things that way, and if we do everything in His name and with the recognition of His support, we cannot fail.

There are numerous stewardship messages in this Gospel, but we must remember that it all starts with one little boy’s willingness to share what he had. Jesus does the rest. This is not about a huge and generous gift; it has to do with a simple and small gift, given with no thought of a return, and what the power of the Lord can accomplish with that offering.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015 — Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kgs: 4: 42-44; Ps 145: 10-11, 15-18; Eph 4: 1-6; Jn 6: 1-5

icon-feeding-5000Our Gospel reading from St. John relates the account of Jesus feeding the more than 5,000 gathered to be fed by the Word, little knowing that they would be fed in reality owing to one of the Lord’s best known miracles. This phenomenal narrative is reported in all four Gospels.

In many ways what Jesus did in this particular miracle is different from others He performed. He makes an effort to involve His Apostles by turning to them and appealing for assistance. Of course, there is some hesitance on the parts of Philip and Andrew who are cited as responding in somewhat negative ways. Jesus does not admonish them for their misgivings but goes ahead to accomplish what He set out to do.

Certainly the Apostles had witnessed previous incredible acts by the Lord, but yet they still hesitated to trust Him implicitly. How often do we do the same? Do we remember the many blessings we have received, and do we think of all the ways God has been with us in the past, or do we, like Philip and Andrew, doubt? Stewardship involves complete trust in God. This trust should be based as much on what has happened in our lives, as on our deep faith. Good stewards concentrate on the positive, not on the negative. When one focuses on blessings rather than challenges, miracles like this seem commonplace.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 — Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jer 23: 1-6; Ps 23: 1-6; Eph 2: 13-18; Mk 6: 30-34

christ-shepherd-2The theme of “shepherds” and “shepherding” flows through all of our readings on this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The reference to shepherds is a common one in the Bible; Jesus Himself often makes allusion to that idea in relationship to how He views and cares for His followers.

If one travels in the Middle East even today, sheepfolds and shepherds and sheep can be found. The shepherd herds the sheep into the sheepfold at night, but there is no gate to the sheepfold, just an opening. That is where the shepherd sleeps as it is the shepherd who is the gate and the protector. That image is also one often referred to by Christ. He is not only the shepherd; He is the gatekeeper.

Our First Reading from Jeremiah represents God speaking in this way: “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” Our lives are filled with shepherds who care for us and love us. Yet, we, too, must recognize those times when we need to be shepherds for others. It is our rapport with the Lord, our ability to see Him within us and to allow Him to guide and shepherd us, which provides us with the strength and wisdom to shepherd others.

St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading from his letter to the Ephesians that we are saved through “the blood of Christ.” Jesus also said more than once that the good shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” Sometimes when we consider the Cross and the Crucifixion, we become focused on the horror of it, the wounds and the blood. What we need to concentrate on is Christ’s love for us. This is the connection to the Shepherd and His love for the flock. In the temples at the time of Jesus there was a literal wall that separated Jews from Gentiles. Paul also prompts us that Jesus “broke down the wall of enmity” for “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul is always repeating to us that salvation is available to all of us if we embrace Christ and His deliverance.

As is normally the case, it is the Gospel that summarizes best what the Lord did for us, and what He continues to do for us. The disciples have just returned from mission work in several communities and villages. They are tired and probably have no desire to spend any more time with people. Jesus recognized that His disciples needed to rest and recover. However, when He saw the crowds He was “moved with pity for them” and His compassion outweighed everything else because they were truly “sheep without a shepherd.” If we are dedicated to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, if we are committed to live our lives as good stewards, there are going to be times when we, too, are weary, and may feel like we can do no more. Like the Lord nonetheless, we must learn to gather our strength through Him, to place our trust in Him, and to take the next steps in our faith journeys by doing more, by responding to the needs we see around us.

We need to be fed by the Word, by Christ, by our faith. Then we need to take that faith and feed others.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 — Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jer 23: 1-6; Ps 23: 1-6; Eph 2: 13-18; Mk 6: 30-34

christ-shepherd-1The image of the shepherd and His sheep is one of the most enduring ones within our Christian faith. Jesus uses this reference consistently throughout His teachings. The Lord, however, does more than tell us He is a shepherd. The idea of shepherds and shepherding occurs more than 200 times in the Bible. We hear of references to shepherds from Abel in Genesis to King David to the shepherds who came to worship Jesus the night He was born.

Sheep are among the most defenseless animals, and they are completely dependent upon the shepherd to feed them or lead them to food and water; to keep them from wandering aimlessly; and to protect them because they are so vulnerable. In today’s Gospel the Lord recognizes that the people are “sheep without a shepherd” and He begins to teach them.

He is feeding them with the word of God. The Hebrew word for “shepherding” can also be translated “feeding.” Jesus calls us to serve as shepherds for those around us, just as He shepherds us. It is this stewardship of our family, friends, co-workers, and others which allows us to show the love we are expected to demonstrate. Even our word “pastor” derives from the Latin word pastor which means, quite simply “shepherd.” An anonymous quote captures what our relationship to the Lord should be perfectly: “When you cannot sleep, do not count sheep; talk to the Shepherd.”

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: July 12, 2015

July 12, 2015 — Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Am 7: 12-15; Ps 85: 9-14; Eph 1: 3-14; Mk 6: 7-13

Prophet-AmosLast week, we heard how Jesus was rejected in His native Nazareth. Our Gospel reading for this week from St. Mark occurs immediately after that incident. Rather than being dejected and becoming withdrawn, the Lord renewed His efforts to tell the Good News and to minister to people everywhere.

In fact, as part of this renewed effort, He took the next step of using His Apostles to expand His Ministry and Build the Kingdom. “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…So they went off and preached repentance.” This same summons applies to us today.

Everyone is called to evangelization. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#849) includes a mandate that we all be missionaries. “Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men.” Our readings on this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time examine this universal call to evangelization.

The First Reading, from the Book of Amos, gives us insights into the prophet Amos. Amos was a shepherd and a farmer. He is an excellent example of the idea that all are called to evangelization. God can speak through each of us, in spite of our place in the world. Just as Amos was a farmer prophet, and Jesus included simple fishermen among His closest followers, we are expected to evangelize in our present situation, representing ourselves as Catholics and Christians.

It is difficult to think of evangelization without thinking of St. Paul. Everything he did and everything he represented was a form of evangelization. The key to his success was the fact that he “preached not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 4) Today’s Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds those to whom the letter was written, which includes us, that we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” It is of great consequence that we understand that Paul speaks of “spiritual” blessings, not “material” blessings. Sometimes when we try to define stewardship in our lives we look mainly at our temporal or material blessings. Paul’s point to us is that our spiritual blessings are even greater, and just as Paul translated those blessings into a lifetime of evangelization, we are expected to do the same.

In preaching redemption, as the Apostles did reflected by our Gospel reading from St. Mark, they were evangelizing, preaching the Good News. Much has been written about evangelization in recent years. Pope Paul VI in particular spoke and wrote extensively on it. In his document Evangelii Nuntiandi he stated, “Evangelization means to bring the Good News to all the straits of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”

We need to follow Christ’s admonition to proclaim the Good News. That does not mean we need to preach on street corners, but it does mean we need to recognize that we more or less proclaim the Good News in every conversation we have with every person with whom we come in contact. If we invite Jesus into our lives, we must be willing to let others know how that invitation, the inclusion of the Lord in what we do, has had a positive effect on us.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: July 12, 2015

July 12, 2015 — Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Am 7: 12-15; Ps 85: 9-14; Eph 1: 3-14; Mk 6: 7-13

St-Paul-Icon-1Most scholars are of the opinion that St. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians while he was imprisoned in Rome. Those who study Sacred Scripture find this letter different from most of Paul’s letters, as rather than addressing particular problems which may have arisen in a Christian community established by Paul, it develops a theology, an explanation of what it means to be a Christian.

At the end of this particular reading, Paul makes reference to two important aspects of our faith and of our beliefs. St. Paul tells us that we have “believed in him (Jesus)” and that we are “sealed” with the promised Holy Spirit. Believing in Jesus, in His promises, in His redemption of us, is at the core of everything we do. This trust, this belief, is what allows us to take the steps needed to follow Him, to be His disciple, and to practice a stewardship way of living.

Note that we believe first, however, and then we are sealed. Yes, we are sealed at Baptism and at Confirmation as those represent our promises to the Lord. We do not need some assurance from God as to His good graces. By believing, by having faith and trust, we are able to be Christ’s representative. It is worth recalling and repeating that well-known quote from St. Thomas Aquinas: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary; to one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: July 5, 2015

July 5, 2015 — Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 2: 2-5; Ps 123: 1-4; 2 Cor 12: 7-10; Mk 6: 1-6

st-mark-iconEverything did not go perfectly for Jesus in His ministry. Today’s Gospel from St. Mark relates how He was rejected in His own hometown. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” There are probably times when we share in that kind of frustration. Nevertheless, if we look at today’s readings in their totality, we find the resolution to that kind of exasperation.

In our Second Reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Lord speaks to Paul. God says basically the same thing to Ezekiel in the First Reading. To the prophet Ezekiel who is being asked to communicate with the Israelites, God says, “Hard of face and obstinate of heart, are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God’.” Ezekiel is being commissioned to carry out a difficult task with the strength provided by God. Throughout Holy Scripture we get the same message — that if we put our trust in the Lord and if we allow Him to work through us, we can accomplish so much.

St. Paul expands upon this message of strength in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul recounts how he feels burdened and weak and turns to God, and God replies to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” As indicated this is the same message which Ezekiel received, and it is worth reiterating that it is the same message each of us receives through the Word. In our reading of the Passion from Mark on Palm Sunday, we heard Jesus cry out in the garden, “Remove this cup from me.” Paul pleads in a similar way in this letter when he says, “I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me.”

God’s response is always that if we rely on Him, if we trust in Him, all things are possible. If we are burdened, there are two ways to address the burden: one is to remove the burden, but the other is to strengthen the back which is bearing it. If we turn to the Lord for strength, that will allow us to more easily bear the burdens, the weaknesses, of life. In that way, as Paul indicates, a weakness can actually become a strength.

Jesus faces a different kind of burden, a different kind of weakness in our Gospel reading from St. Mark. Jesus had left Nazareth as a carpenter and as a man alone. He came back as a gifted teacher with followers completely devoted to Him. It is no wonder that the people in His hometown asked the question, “What happened to Jesus?” They found it difficult to believe in Him. This was surely both frustrating and disappointing to the Lord. However, like Paul and Ezekiel in the earlier readings, Jesus makes this into a strength. Rather than bowing to the feeling that He could accomplish nothing, He moves on and becomes stronger in His ministry and His message.

How do we respond to failure? How do we react to seeming burdens? Do we admit defeat and abandon what seems to be a fruitless journey, or do we seek and find strength in the presence of God and literally turn what seems to be a weakness into a strength? The next verse in Mark (6:7) states, “And he made a circuit of the villages, teaching.” We need to counter life’s difficulties, problems which exist because of our own weakness in many cases, with the same kind of resolve. Knowing that God is with us and that the Lord gives us a vigor which we cannot have without Him, we need to move forward and continue and succeed.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: July 5, 2015

July 5, 2015 — Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 2: 2-5; Ps 123: 1-4; 2 Cor 12: 7-10; Mk 6: 1-6

St-Paul-Icon-1St. Paul declares in his letter to the Corinthians, the Second Reading, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Certainly anyone who knows much about St. Paul would not view him as a weak man. This is a man who, through his strong faith, put his life in jeopardy constantly. He endured imprisonment and shipwrecks. Yet, he admits to having weaknesses.

There is something humiliating in admitting one’s weaknesses. Humility is an important trait in living a life of stewardship. Being able to recognize and admit our shortcomings is essential for us to have the strength Paul demonstrates. That is his point in today’s reading, and it contains an important message for each of us.

The reason St. Paul finds strength in his limitations is because he is aware that the Lord will provide the power needed in the midst of those deficiencies. Paul’s life is God-centered. Living life that way is exactly the way one can best follow stewardship as a way of life. Paul prefaces his statement about being weak and strong by writing the message he has been given by the Lord, who said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” May we pray for the strength of God’s presence, and may we be willing to seek humility to truly find our strengths.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: June 28, 2015

June 28, 2015 – Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24; Ps 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-13; 2 Cor 8: 7, 9, 13-15; Mk 5: 21-43

paolo_veronese_christ_and_the_woman_with_the_issue_of_blood_525According to Catholic scholars, the Book of Wisdom from the Old Testament was written about 50 years before the coming of Christ. The author, though unknown, wrote in Greek, and presented the Book as if it was written by Solomon. The point of the Book in part is to extol the virtues of seeking divine wisdom. The first ten chapters, including our First Reading today, provide a foundation for the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus was in many ways the ultimate teacher. He is called “Teacher” 29 times in the Gospels. If we include the verb “teach” the references grow to some 90. Just as the Book of Wisdom paints the splendor of seeking wisdom, the Lord imparts wisdom to us constantly. Jesus did not normally give speeches; He talked with people and with us. Today’s readings build upon His teachings in many ways.

The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom explains to us the importance of striving to understand the mysteries of faith while at the same time accepting the fact that understanding is beyond our grasp. You might say there is knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and action. From a stewardship perspective many people know what stewardship is; others understand it and may even be able to articulate it. However, the great challenge is the action, living it out in our daily lives. That demonstrates wisdom.

Like the Lord, St. Paul was a great teacher. His letters make up half of the New Testament. Paul was more often an orator than Jesus, but his abilities to teach and foster the faith are clear. Today’s Second Reading is from his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul’s message has much to do with “giving.” St. Paul does not tell the Corinthians that they “have” to give; that would be taxation, and Paul in his former life was very familiar with that. Instead, like Jesus Himself, Paul makes it clear that people are able to exercise free will in what they give and what they share. The idea of “free will” is a great boon, but it also can be a bit of a burden as well. Whether we are disciples and whether we practice stewardship is a matter of personal choice. Yet Jesus did “command” us to love one another. If we are really pursuing that admonition, it is difficult to do it without being a good steward.

Jesus, that master teacher, was a healer. In last week’s Gospel, He demonstrated His authority over nature by calming the storm. This week He exhibits His authority over sickness and death. He heals a woman of a hemorrhage, and then a young girl is brought back to life. There is an interesting contrast in these two events. The first is done publicly although the woman approaches him in secret, while the second is more or less done privately while the appeal was made publicly. The key to the first act of healing is that the woman reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak. This is more than physical touching; as the Lord indicates what the woman is really doing is reaching out in faith. We can attend church regularly and pray often, but unless we truly reach out in faith, we cannot be healed. St. Augustine once said, “Flesh presses; faith touches.”

Prior to healing and bringing back to life the daughter of the synagogue official, Jesus says to him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” For us to find calm in the midst of a storm and for us to find healing in the midst of something which seems too great to overcome, it is our faith, too, which is the solution. Although Jesus may respond to us and to others differently in each situation, it is in reality the same. Jesus can touch each of us personally, but we must ask and seek Him.